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Getting Immigration Reform Right

Q U I C K S C A N

H.R. 4437 and S. 1033
'Justice for Immigrants' Program
It's All About People

Many groups within our society agree that the U.S. immigration system has been broken for years. Some want a major overhaul; others prefer a high-profile quick fix.

Between eight and 11 million unauthorized migrants live in the United States. They come for many reasons—for example, to be reunited with family members who are already citizens, to flee political persecution or to have greater work opportunities.

Last June the Pew Hispanic Center released its report “Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics,” putting that number at 10.3 million (available through www.pewhispanic.org/reports).

An estimated 57 percent of these men, women and children come from Mexico, 24 percent from other Latin American countries and the rest from other parts of the world. Most unauthorized migrants come from predominantly Catholic countries.

These 4.9 million adult men, 3.9 million adult women and 1.5 million children under the age of 18 have a major effect on our health, educational, social-service and legal systems. But that was true for the earlier immigrants from whom most of us are descended and who contributed greatly to our country.

The last major reworking of U.S. immigration law in 1986 took 14 years of discussion, plus five years of congressional negotiation. Good legislation does not spring up like dandelions.

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H.R. 4437 and S. 1033

Since January 2005, more than 40 congressional bills have been introduced regarding immigration reform.

On December 16, 2005, by a vote of 239 to 182, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.

Focusing entirely on enforcement, this 257-page bill makes it a felony to be in the country illegally, makes it a crime to help them, penalizes state and local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws and calls for building 700 miles of new fence along our 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

Last month, the Senate, which already has many proposed bills about immigration reform, was expected to work on those, plus H.R. 4437. In May 2005, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced S. 1033, the Secure American and Orderly Immigration Act.

The McCain-Kennedy bill provides for realistic enforcement measures, stronger border security, help for matching U.S. employers with foreign workers and a way for illegal immigrants to work toward lawful residency.

'Justice for Immigrants' Program

Last May the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled its “Justice for Immigrants” program, a multiyear effort to educate Americans, especially Catholics, about the need for comprehensive immigration reform (www.justiceforimmigrants.org).

This campaign was launched at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on May 10, 2005. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., spoke there and identified the campaign’s main goals:

• to educate Catholics and others of goodwill about the benefits of immigration and the benefits of immigrants to our nation;

• to strengthen public opinion about the positive contributions of immigrants;

• to advocate for just immigration laws which promote legal status and legal pathways for migrant workers and their families;

• to organize Catholic legal-service networks to assist immigrants to access the benefits of reforms.

Cardinal McCarrick said: “The current negative environment toward immigrants is due in part to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, which have had a profound impact on our nation. Let us not give in to the temptation to scapegoat all immigrants who come to our land—and who contribute their God-given talent to our communities—because of the actions of a few.”

According to Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo, Texas, who spoke at that press conference, the reforms needed “will make our nation more secure by bringing immigrants ‘out of the shadows’ and helping law enforcement distinguish between those who help us and those who seek to harm us.”

In 2003, the U.S. and Mexican bishops addressed many of these issues in their pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” (www.usccb.org/mrs/stranger.shtml). “Juntos en el Camino de La Esperanza Ya No Somos Extranjeros,” the Spanish text, is available at www.usccb.org/mrs/strangersp.shtml.

It's All About People

Comprehensive immigration reform is hard work because good people can disagree about the best means to achieve agreed-upon goals.

The starting point, however, must be that immigration reform legislation is first about people—not “problems.” The title and contents of S. 1033 reflect this more clearly than the title and contents of H.R. 4437 do.

Proposed bills have good and bad points. Politics is the art of compromise—but only after serious study of all options and vigorous debate about their merits.

The United States, a nation of immigrants except for Native Americans, deserves the most just immigration laws that Congress can enact now. Deuteronomy 10:19 reminds the Hebrews that they were once aliens in the land of Egypt.—P.M.


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